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Jacksonville police say officer-involved shooting at dealership was justified

Jacksonville Police Chief John Franklin said that following an internal investigation, the officers involved in a burglary-turned-shooting have been cleared.

JACKSONVILLE, Arkansas — The public can now see what two Jacksonville police officers saw when they shot and killed a man nearly three weeks ago.

The chief of the Jacksonville Police Department released body-cam and surveillance video Tuesday related to the June 13 shooting death of Tramon Savage. The release accompanied the announcement that internal investigations found officers Logan Kulesa and Shawn Jones were justified for their use of deadly force against Savage.

“It’s tragic any time we lose a life out here in the investigation of a burglary or theft of an auto,” Police Chief John Franklin said during a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “But, basically, under the circumstances, fearing for their life, fearing for each other’s lives, they fired in self-defense of each other, and at that point, I can’t rule it as anything else but justifiable, considering their mindset at the time it occurred.”

RELATED: 1 dead after overnight officer-involved shooting at car dealership in Jacksonville

Franklin said that a cleaning crew heard someone break into Crain Ford in Jacksonville and called 911. Kulesa was nearby on a routine patrol and was first to respond. He called for backup, and Jones arrived as well.

“You could see Officer Kulesa on his body-cam watching through the windows, the side windows of the dealership,” Franklin stated, “and you could see someone inside, actively turning on lights of various vehicles.”

Surveillance video from the dealership shows Savage walk in and out of the showroom and getting in some of the cars. He can then be seen running into the service garage and getting in the driver’s seat of a black Ford F-250 when Jones and Kulesa enter through a partially-open garage door.

Kulesa’s body-cam shows them walk in with guns drawn. They identify themselves as Jacksonville police officers. Both officers yell, “show me your hands,” multiple times. Savage slowly drives forward, and Jones, walking toward the driver’s side of the truck, yells for him to stop.

When Savage turns and accelerates toward the garage door, Jones and Kulesa, who had moved toward the truck’s passenger side, can both be seen firing several rounds into the truck. The video shows Kulesa open the passenger door to find Savage bleeding and slumped over, arms extended.

Warning: This video contains graphic images of blood and scenes viewers may find disturbing.

“Officer Shawn Jones was on the driver’s side of the vehicle, and he noted that he couldn’t see Officer Kulesa,” Franklin explained. “The vehicle was very large, he couldn’t see over the hood to see where Officer Kulesa was. He felt that the tires of the vehicle were going right in the direction he last saw Officer Kulesa, and in fearing for Officer Kulesa’s safety, Officer Shawn Jones began to fire several times into the vehicle." 

"Officer Kulesa, at this point, also could not see Officer Shawn Jones on the driver’s side of the vehicle," Franklin said. "Officer Kulesa was on the driver’s side. He feared for Officer Jones’ safety, and by him hearing the gunshots, he wasn’t sure who was doing the shooting. He did notice that the driver inside of the vehicle—and, granted, understand, this vehicle had tinted windows, all four windows—he noted the driver was sitting in the driver’s seat, over the steering wheel hunched over, and he said that he wasn’t sure if the subject was reaching for a weapon or if he had a weapon in his hand. At that point, Officer Kulesa began to fire into the vehicle, also.”

Investigators later discover that Savage was unarmed. He was taken to the hospital, but he did not survive.

“It’s been hard. It’s been hard,” his grandmother, Ada Stanley, said. “We just, you know, we’re trying to cope with it. Just kind of like, it’s unbelievable, you know? Unreal.”

Savage, 22, grew up in Hamburg and was known for his love of football. Stanley called him an “awesome” person.

“He was just the greatest grandson, greatest person,” she said with a smile. “He never met a stranger. And he had the best smile—you can see him smiling on there—he had, like, a million-dollar smile. When he comes in the room, it lights up. And people enjoyed being around him.”

Stanley mentioned that Savage struggled with his mental health and that he was not well the night he was killed. She said he loved cars, and believes he was admiring them, not trying to steal them, when the officers arrived.

She and other members of his family said they were troubled watching the video of Savage’s death.

RELATED: James Hartsfield's family sues city of Little Rock and police officer who killed him

“The big thing: there was no de-escalation at the scene,” family spokesperson Kymara Hill-Seals stated. “There should’ve been de-escalation with Tramon and the police officers. And it looks like, apparently, they just wanted to shoot, shoot, shoot, reload, and shoot more. That’s troubling.”

Hill-Seals said the family had asked to see more of the surveillance footage showing Savage’s movements before the officers arrived, but were denied by Franklin.

Franklin mentioned that officers had multiple encounters with Savage in the weeks before the shooting. Earlier in the evening of June 13, Franklin said security video at a nearby gas station shows Savage attempt to use a hand-drawn $5 bill to pay for a few items before running out the door with them. The clerk attempted to follow him, but lost track of him.

Hill-Seals said the family is not satisfied with the Jacksonville Police Department’s internal investigations.

“We want charges pressed. We want justice for Tramon. We demand justice. We’re gonna do our part, we’re gonna stay on top of this,” Hill-Seals said.

The case file has been turned over to County Prosecutor Larry Jegley. Franklin said Jones and Kulesa will remain on administrative leave until Jegley wraps his own investigation and decides whether to pursue criminal charges against them.

“I’m not going to tell you there aren’t some training issues we’ll be addressing regarding the shooting,” Franklin added. “But, at the time, the information they had to process in seconds, they did the best they could with the information they had at hand. I’m not going to tell you I’m totally happy with the incident, itself.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Hill-Seals said later. “And hopefully, for the next people, no other family will have to go through this. It’ll be too late for Tramon, we know, too late for Tramon, but going forward, we don’t want to see this happen to another person. At all.”

Franklin said he did not feel any additional pressure during the investigation as a result of the Little Rock Police Department’s investigation into the shooting death of Bradley Blackshire in February by former officer Charles Starks. Starks was fired by LRPD Chief Keith Humphrey for violating departmental policy, though Jegley chose not to pursue criminal charges against him. Both incidents involved black men killed by white officers, and both cases involved a stolen car being driven toward the officer who then shot and killed the driver.

RELATED: LRPD officer who shot and killed Bradley Blackshire fired

“I don’t feel that the two incidents are related,” Franklin stated. “I watched that video from the Little Rock PD, and unfortunately, that officer made a decision to step in front of the path of the vehicle when that subject was trying to flee. My officers did not make that decision. Our policies forbid such actions, and our officers complied with our policies.”

Both Jones and Kulesa have been with the Jacksonville Police Department for slightly less than three years, according to Franklin.

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